More or less a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guy Sheffer, who represented Israel at the ITU Youth Forum in Bangkok. Guy is a true open source enthusiast and has tremendous amounts of energy, which are rather inspiring. He got really excited and interested in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC ) project and when he went back home, he was determined to have an OLPC pilot in Israel. He got together with Netzach Farbish , who heads the Astronomy, Computers and Young Leadership Programs at the Ilan Ramon Center, and when I was in Israel last winter I helped them to meet with Ushi Krausz of the Peres Center for Peace. It turned out that the center had a stock of older XO’s that they didn’t use and were willing to contribute to the pilot.
In the video below you can see an interview with Guy and Netzah where they talk about the pilot:
I understand that Guy is still working on reflections on the pilot and its results, which he will publish in his blog. I have some thoughts of my own, but I will hold them untill he has his say
I have so much to write about, including updates from my experience at WTPF, but literally no time. Between writing the A-exams, grading, writing the A-exams, traveling, and writing the A-exams, blogging moved to the second stage. But this is really exciting news and I will make it brief.
So here is the update: a group of Cornell undergraduate students won a grant from the OLPCorps scheme and in a few weeks they are going to Tidjikja, Mauritania, to distribute 100 XO laptops to children and tutor them for about two months. I am trying to help these guys with some advise, but they are doing great in spite of that
If you are interested, you can take a look at a wiki with the details of their proposal (PDF) and you can follow a blog they have recently started. As I said, they received 100 XO laptops, USD 10,000 for expenses, and a week long training in Rwanda. So, just two members of the team are actually going to Mauritania, but nevertheless they are still about USD 1,000 short. If you happen to have an idea where they can apply for money on such a short notice, please share. If you wish to contribute yourself (not necessarily the entire sum), you can do that as well (thank you in advance!).
I am really excited for the guys and I am sure this is going to an interesting experience from which we all will learn a lot.
The phrase “economic peace” may not be the most popular phrase in the Middle East, since it was utilized for the election campaign of Likud. However, economics seems to be a powerful element and things happen in spite of politics.
I am writing this because I just learned from the Good Neighbors blog about a new initiative by Wharton (I assume MBA) students, called LendforPeace.org. The initiatives seems to be a close replica of the Kiva, which I think one of the most innovative projects combining micro-finance with possibilities opened up by technological progress. The main difference between Kiva and LendforPeace is the geographical focus. In their own words:
LendforPeace.org is a not-for-profit Internet platform that allows individuals like you to make small loans to specific micro-entrepreneurs in the Palestinian Territories.
Our mission is to use micro-lending to promote economic opportunity and political stability in the Middle East.
The website was officially launced at the beginning of this month with a grant from Clinton Foundation after a pilot set of loans ($5000) was successfully returned in about half a year (you can learn more about it on their blog).
One of the “selling points” of the project is that it is established by two Jewish and two Palestinian students. I presonally think that it would be even cooler if it these were two Israelis and two Palestinians in the team. Nevertheless I find these kinds of joint ventures encouraging.
Recently i blogged about some number of mobile penetration in Africa. Now i came across this rather old article (HE) about an Israeli company that develops under $25 mobile phones. The great part of this story is that these seem to be not just simpler (and thus cheaper) phones, but handhelds that have internet and multimedia capabilities. Neat…
I saw a Washington Post article about an emerging trend of serious games. It mentions a very interesting initiative called “Games for change“, which describes itself in the following way:
Games for Change (G4C) provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change. We provide special assistance to foundations and non-profits entering the field. Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise. Our members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofits, local and state governments, foundations, the UN and artists.
They have a rather interesting website with many examples of serious games and it also seems that there is quite a vibrant community surrounding these issues. They have a section of youth produced games, which currently has only one game and i could not really see how it was youth produced (but maybe i am missing something). Nevertheless, the concept is interesting.
It also reminded that it’s been a while since wanted to post a note about (already not so) new project by Impact Games (creators of Peace Maker). It’s called “Play the news” and it is kind of a dream league, but for news. I’ve been following this project since its beta and i find it as an interesting approach to keep people interested in the world’s matters. My only “worry” is that it seems (based on the discussions on the site) that at least the current pool of participants consists primarily of people who are already curious and knowledgeable about the world affairs. It would be interesting to see how this idea flies among the youths, who are being blamed to become more disengaged, apathetic, and more.
It’s been a while since i read this article (HE) about two young Israeli entrepreneurs who participated in developing GPS software that would be friendly for the visually impaired people. If you ever used a GPS, you would know that many (most?) of them are capable of providing voice directions. However, it is not good enough if you cannot see properly. The program that they developed makes more use of voice. For example when you select destinations or want to find out where you are at the moment and what is there in your surroundings. One interesting feature of the program is its adjustment for the use of public transportation – it will tell you what bus stop you are at and when you should get off. The main downside of the program at the moment is its price.
Recently I also read this news update about a free email service, RoboBraille, that translates text into audio or Braille. According to this article, it takes the program “can return a simple text in Braille in under a minute while taking as long as 10 hours to provide an audio recording of a book”, which i think is still very impressive (provided that the final quality of the output is good). They report to work on about 500 documents a day and have translated a quarter million texts so far. My only unanswered question here is how a visually impaired, probably blind person is supposed to send that email. That would probably require some more expansive hardware and software, which still maintains a barrier.
Even though I still have some questions, I am really excited when the information technology is used to solve real, substantial problems. If you have more examples, please share!
Erik shared with me a a pretty funny dance remix of Bill O’Reilly flipping out during filming of one of his shows. Checking out replies to the original video, i came across a YouTuber Josh. What differentiates Josh from the vast majority of YouTubers is that it takes to get used to the way he talks. Josh has Arthrogryposis, which keeps him in a wheel chair and gives him a look that causes people to ask if he is an anorexic. Yet, he sees himself a stand up, or since cannot really stand up, a sit-down comedian and actor.
He has a number of channels on YouTube and a Google page, and appears to be a rather active YouTuber doing all the other things that other YouTubers do. Apparently he is doing it well since when i was checking out his channel, it was #40 most viewed (that week) comedian. I think this is pretty amazing also because Josh is making an excellent point. First i felt uncomfortable watching some of his video but then i think i got it – his comedy is making fun of us making fun of him, which is a rather interesting mirror for the physically healthy part of the population. And he is making it step by step with over 550 subscribers and over 650 friends on YouTube.
According to his own words humor keeps him going, but it also seems that the communication he manages to build through these videos on YouTube is what keeps him going. There is a lot of talk about whether or not technology can be used to empower or make people’s lives better. But this is a concrete example of a guy for whom it seems to be an enormous empowering tool and i doubt he would have this opportunity in the regular physical world without having these platforms in place. I think this is pretty amazing and apparently Josh is not the only one who uses YouTube to help dealing with the physical realities.
Here is a video of Josh with his cousin performing a rather good lip-sync and i assume original words:
Another positive piece of news i find on the Mideast Youth website – an Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. They are a rather eclectic group of people – an orthodox Jew, a black Jewish convert, a Palestinian-American, and an American-Israeli. Interestingly, non of them is actually “native” in a sense of being born and spending their lives in a single place with one dominant identity. But they are united in their ability to laugh at themselves and to laugh at the situation. On an optimistic note, who knows… maybe if people can laugh together, they can also talk.
Joining me, CNN…
and a selection of sketches from their DVD:
Here is more about how the show is received in their own words.
Kind of inspired by the positive news project (whose US branch is actually located in Ithaca i decided to try and post some positive news here from time to time. So, here we go (some of it is not really new though).
Following my recent, not so pleasant, encounter in the blogosphere, i came across this website titled Middle East Youth (which i actually have seen before). It appears interesting at least in a sense that it has contributors from all over the region and it has some interesting and positive stories, that seem to escape mainstream media radar. For example here is a story of Israeli and Palestinian formula one enthusiasts who are going to compete together. And here is another story that people recommended in the comments about quite an old initiative where Israeli and Palestinian kids are brought together to play soccer. Actually i heard about the last one before and even met some people who have been involved. It was an interesting initiative and wonder if it’s still going on.
Although it appears small and insignificant, i think it is important that we remain aware of such grassroots (but not only) initiatives. The more of those we have, the more there would be hope for change (i even put a positive picture :).
And on a slightly different, but still positive, note I wanted to draw your attention to the approaching deadline for Stockholm Challenge submissions. It is a competition for an award in the field of ICT and development hosted by the municipality of (surprise, surprise) Stockholm. The deadline is Dec. 31. Good luck if you are applying!